Christmas sales are tracking at similar levels to last year for the majority of booksellers (63%), with just 13% reporting an increase and 24% reporting a decrease. This compares to last year’s stronger-than-expected pre-Christmas sales, when 80% of the stores surveyed reported a rise in sales, 17% said sales were similar to last year and just three percent said sales were worse.
This year Books+Publishing received feedback from representatives of almost 200 bookshops around Australia. Chain booksellers appear to be having a more stable time of it, with almost all of the chains (97%) reporting that sales are ‘about the same’ as last year. The indies are much more divided, with 25% reporting an increase in sales, 29% reporting similar sales, and 29% reporting a decrease.
It is clear, however, that last year’s strong growth in pre-Christmas sales for both chains and indies has not been repeated.
For the majority of chain stores (98%), Christmas sales are close to expectations. Again, indies are more divided. Forty-four percent report that sales are worse than expected, 45% that they are close to expectations, and 25% that they are better than expected.
‘Last year was a really bumper year and it is hard to imagine we will do as well as that but I imagine we will come close,’ said Anna Low from Potts Point Bookshop in Sydney. ‘It’s started revving up since last weekend, Saturday 10th,’ said Scott Whitmont from Lindfield Bookshop in Sydney, adding that he was ‘optimistic that [sales will] be up by the time we get to Xmas’.
A couple of booksellers spoke about the impact of a possible recession. ‘Every time we turn on the news everyone is talking about recession,’ said one Sydney indie bookseller. Susanne Horman from Robinsons Bookshops in Melbourne noted that there were ‘lots of factors, lots of theories as to why [book sales were down], nothing to do with books—consumer confidence is down due to external factors’. She said that sales had not recovered after a ‘noticeable downturn in October’ and that she was expecting ‘two quarters of negative growth’.
Several states seemed to be doing it worse than others. ‘Perth’s economy is buggered at the moment so things are tight,’ said one Perth indie bookseller. Another indie bookseller from Adelaide noted the ‘low foot traffic into the centre we’re in and SA’s unemployment situation—lots of projects being put on hold recently so not a lot of growth’.
Mark Rubbo from Readings in Melbourne said his two new shops were ‘trading very strongly’ but that online sales were ‘down significantly’. ‘Competition is fierce,’ he noted.
Christmas rush slow to start
In 2015, the majority of booksellers (92%) said the Christmas rush was about the same time—or even earlier—than the year before. This is not the case in 2016, with 79% reporting a later-than-usual Christmas rush (17% said it was about the same, 4% said it was earlier).
This may have something to do with the timing of Christmas Day. ‘We are expecting a huge last week due to Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year,’ said Dymocks book buyer Sharyn Villaverde. Mary Dalmau from Readers Feast in Melbourne was also anticipating a late surge. ‘Next week is the key,’ said Dalmau. ‘Whenever Christmas is late in a week, the frenzied nature of it doesn’t start until the last week. You don’t know how Christmas Eve is going to go.’
Kara Smith from Imprints in Adelaide was also ‘hoping for a rush next week’. ‘Part of that is that Christmas falls on the Sunday this week, so people think that they have more time than they do.’
Nielsen BookScan figures: Volume and value both down as colouring books dry up
The books: Strong across the board; big-name fiction, cookbooks missing
Supply, stock, staff and sales
Online sales and ebooks
All down to the last week